A counting machine flips through a stack of bright pink-coloured paper money - bills destined for children at an elementary school in Taiwan.

The notes are either passed out by teachers for a job well done, exchanged by children at a student-run grocery store, or - if the experiment is a success - carefully saved up and responsibly spent.

The idea for this school bank experiment was conceived by Lai Hao-wei, an education specialist at Wenlin Elementary School in Taipei, who was tasked by the school's principle to teach students the value of money.

Taiwanese are no strangers to the hardships of recession given their export-reliant economy which fluctuates according to global demand, and Lai himself knows what it is like to misspend and run into debt as a young adult.

"When I first entered the real world, I had no understanding of finance whatsoever. I spent everything I earned every month. I even had credit card debt once. It took me a long time to pay that off," Lai remembers.

Inspired by the popular board game, Monopoly, Lai hopes that his "Wenlin dollars" can teach students how to better manage their finances and prepare them for adulthood.

"Students will be able to learn about earning and spending," Lai says. "The children can earn their own money and take full responsibility. By doing this, I believe they can really experience matters of finance."

Lai's first challenge is to get teachers on board, which is not easy at the traditional school.

"It's quite an old school which makes it difficult to change things," he says. "I have no idea whether this whole thing will work."

And as Lai gets the programme going he encounters some unexpected challenges. He has angered some members of the Parent-Teachers Association, who accuse him of violating Taiwan's Labor Standards Act by "employing" children.

But Lai pushes onward with the programme to prove that his "Wenlin dollars" truly have value.

Inspired by the popular board game, Monopoly, Lai Hao-wei hopes that the school bank experiment helps teach students the value of money [Al Jazeera]


By Maso Chen

At some point early in life, we all realise that everything in our possession comes from somewhere - the stationeries we use, the backpack we carry, the food we put in our mouth.

But most schools don't teach children how these items are acquired or how to earn money to be able to afford them.

Financial education is virtually non-existent in Taiwan's curriculum; schools cover only the glossaries at best.

When it comes to finance management, children either get their ideas from the family or the mass media. So, instead of being taught theories and techniques, the children might be poorly informed on how the system really works. And the lack of awareness and knowledge could lead to social problems later on in their lives.

When I was younger, I didn't think this would be a problem. I thought once you start working, you'd know how to manage money, but it turned out that's not the case.

Financial education is virtually non-existent in Taiwan's educational curriculum, writes filmmaker Maso Chen [Al Jazeera]

More and more young adults end up with credit card debt, being declared bankrupt, and completely devoid of any concept of finance management. By being part of the society, they might contribute to the functioning of the system, but how it really works, or on what principles it is built on, remains a mystery to most of them.

In response, Lai Hao-wei, the director of student affairs in an elementary school in northern Taiwan, thought of an innovative experiment where he'd set up a school bank and circulate a currency that is unique to the school.

Essentially, he's set up a system modelled after the real world where financial rules are applied within the confines of the school walls - teaching students how to earn wages and use the money to buy the items they desire.

Lai Hao-wei, the director of Student Affairs in an elementary school in northern Taiwan, faces criticism as he implements his school bank experiment [Al Jazeera]

This programme strikes many people as controversial and it's not easy to convince teachers and parents of the programme's validity. They worry the children might become too utilitarian being exposed to the concept of money at such an early stage, and thus be groomed into a person who would only work when a reward is guaranteed.

Despite the incessant controversies surrounding the programme, I believe that when adults and daily life fail to provide children with the correct sets of skills or knowledge, schools have to carry out this particular task.

This idea extends far beyond what's discussed in the film; any skill that would be required in society should be taught, step by step, when children are still at school.

Many students feel lost once they are out of the safe school environment. Education neither gives them the skills to perform the task of their choosing nor prepares them for the financial principles on which the real world runs on. There are pros and cons to every programme, but I believe that programmes like this could have a profound influence on the students' future.

Source: Al Jazeera